Many of my recovery friends have called my idea of recovery “The Gentle Path” but what does that mean?
- Relapse is often a part of recovery
- Recovery is about making progress not about attaining perfection
- “Harm Reduction” is always better than “Tough Love” or “Punishment”
- Every day in recovery is better than a day without recovery
Relapse Is Often A Part Of Recovery
I do not believe that addicts who relapse are “failures.”
Recovery is a process and the goal is to work towards lasting sobriety. This process is often a long and winding road with ups and downs. When we fail, it is almost always part of our progress towards lasting sobriety.
Your goal should always be to be sober and certainly should be about working very hard to reduce the risk you pose to others to zero. You have a right to struggle, you don’t have a right to hurt other people or to put them at risk.
But, you have a right to struggle, recovery from addiction is a life-long path and sometimes we fail.
Progress Not Perfection
For those of you involved in 12-Step programs you know that this is one of the most informative and interesting parts of the literature (IMHO). I agree with the Big Book that the goal should be progress and not perfection (none of us are Saints).
I always like to share this discussion that I had with a devastated friend who had recently relapsed:
Me: “How many times did you act-out last year (before recovery)?”
Friend: “1000’s of times”
Me: “And, how many times have you acted out this year (since recovery)?”
Friend: “9 Times”
To me, that is the essence of recovery. My acting-out cycle often revolves around feeling failure, guilt, and shame and I tend to catastrophize and magnify every failure.
It is really important to measure progress (context) and not to just fixate on some notion of perfection.
Tough Love Is Rarely The Answer
Most of the recovering addicts that I know were never suffering from too little “tough love.” Most of the recovering addicts that I know, including myself, often use self-loathing and feelings of failure to fuel the acting-out cycle.
I believe that most often, non-physical addiction is really a processing problem in relation to our fear of being hurt by other people.
I believe that the answer can best be found in programs revolving around “Harm Reduction.” In other words, as a relapsing addict, you should always only act out in an environment that is safe and which puts nobody else at risk.
I agree 100% with Johann Hari who says that the “opposite of addiction” is not sobriety, it is “connection.”
Recovery is a process of learning how to be intimate and connected to other people. Tough love solutions, in my humble opinion, often reinforce the core of the original problem.
People who are in relationships with addicts (friends and lovers) should certainly set and enforce boundaries but not using the language of punishment. Feeling punished, hurt, isolated, and abandoned is often at the very core of why addiction develops.
I believe that people should be punished when they break laws (and especially when they hurt other human beings). I also believe that we should stop punishing people for actions that do not directly hurt or put other people at risk. Relapse should not be a criminal activity if nobody else is at risk.
But, I also believe that we should stop punishing people for actions that do not directly hurt or put other people at risk. Relapse should not be a criminal activity if nobody else is at risk.
Every day in recovery is better than a day without recovery
I have been in way too many recovery groups and meetings where people wanted to ask other people to leave.
I believe that it is always better for someone to attend a meeting (by choice) than to be left to their own devices. In addition, many people love recovery groups precisely because meetings are the only place they have ever felt that other people understood them.
Despite millions of studies produced and thousands of books published, nobody (and I mean nobody) knows what causes people to have a breakthrough. Being around other people struggling or happily sober can only help.
I understand that many of my beliefs about recovery are controversial.
I do believe that different solutions work for different people and know that I am not a medical expert or addiction professional.
I have spent thousands of hours researching and am engaged in a long-term program of recovery which has resulted in over 6 years of sobriety, but I know that my answers are not the only answers.
One thing that I hope we can all agree about is that we want ourselves and all other addicts to find a real and lasting recovery using whatever methods work for them.
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